Issue 7 Editor’s Note

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The following in the full Editor’s Note for Issue 7:

Although born a summer baby, home always looked like witches in windows, puffy jackets in the middle of downtown, noses red and runny and frozen, and powdered hot chocolate with dissolvable marshmallows to warm our insides. I find solace in a time where apparitions come out to play and the dead scratch at the ceilings of their coffins, preparing to see the moonlight again. There’s comfort in walking around, crunching leaves beneath feet, hands buried deep into coat pockets and scarves wrapped around faces four times. There’s warmth in the sound of furnaces ticking awake, lingering campfire smoke in your partner’s hair, and whiskey filling up your glass. There’s magic in this time of year: in Halloween, in Fall, in Transition.

But warmth often cools. As I grew older, the home always found in the unrelenting Midwest began to morph. The pleasant glow emanating from memories became cold with silent, empty apartments, mice found in bread bags, distance built by thoughts held instead of vocalized. Specters knocked at my door, pulling me back to memories I so badly wanted to forget. Often, I could only make out remnants of what used to draw me to this blustery season. Instead of mulled wine under blankets and comforting movies with people around, all that seemed to be left were numbed toes and half-hearted hang outs.

While it may be tempting to build a home in memories, as my friend Amy would say, change is always first perceived as loss. I’ve always been tied to nostalgia, never wanting to forget all the nourishing times, writing them down in lists, in books, in my phone, just to make sure I remember. I don’t like letting go of what I once defined as my home, my surrounding, my friends. Slowly, with many bruises and burns, I’m finally beginning to learn how to accept that this season won’t be the same every year. It won’t always be shows and costumes and vulnerability and friends. Sometimes it’ll just be time with yourself or with the person you love most. And that’s okay.

During the first year of Sobotka, I was living alone in a town full of transitional people. I’d stayed in Urbana for a job after graduating, though almost all my friends had left. Memories of house parties, late night talks, midnight grocery store runs, and climbing roofs haunted me, haunted this town. When I finally decided to move back to Chicago, I told myself that I wouldn’t be alone like that again. I began to fill every day with friends or activities or work, anything that would keep me occupied and away from my thoughts. I put my energy into people and projects, but never into myself. By keeping a safe distance from anything that was going on in my mind, I was never able to develop, learn about myself, or grow. I became stagnant.

This year, I’ve finally allowed myself to create new experiences, ones that I never imagined I’d have. This is the first time I’ve fully written the Editor’s Note, the first time I’ve ever had any of my work published and read in public, the first time I’ve ever traveled to Pittsburgh or the Smoky Mountains or Madison or experienced the inexplicable House on the Rock. By letting go of familiarity, I’ve been able to have a year of strange, scary, exciting, influential experiences. Now, I find comfort in moments where I sit in my room, no one around, and am allowed to write and read and be with my thoughts.

Instead of focusing on distance during this season, it’s become a time to dig out an understanding of what I need to not slip on that ice on my way to work or school or the bar, to take skeletons off their hangers and into the light. Though snow blizzards and cold winds can act as a comforter, tucking us far away from what’s waiting beyond the door, they also give us a space for self-reflection. This space can serve as a moment where we look back at past decisions made, where we diverged and got caught up in the thoughts of all that went wrong. Here’s where we understand how to release, move forward, and enjoy this new type of season in our lives.

Some of the pieces in this issue ruminate on softer, fuller times, while others try to find a path or new focus for the future, but most are looking for meaning, a reason, an understanding of what to do next, what is the right move in this game of Sequence.

Each time these glimpses into people’s lives flood our inbox, everything reawakens: motivation, examination of self, possibilities. The lapse in creativity, filled. Home is where we expect to feel welcomed, unafraid, comfortable. These pieces remind us that not everyone has that luxury. Some live inside themselves, questioning their actions and inactions constantly. But we can also find a peace in this turbulent place. Even if it requires changing your perspective, even when it’s extremely difficult.

As always, we hope this makes you feel human and unalone.

Kathy Klimentowski
Chicago, November 2018

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Natalie Diaz’ “My Brother at 3 A.M.”

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Our words this week are Natalie Diaz’ poem “My Brother at 3 A.M.” from her collection When My Brother Was an Aztec on Copper Canyon Press.

It reads:

He sat cross-legged, weeping on the steps
when Mom unlocked and opened the front door.
        O God, he said. O God.
                He wants to kill me, Mom.
When Mom unlocked and opened the front door
at 3 a.m., she was in her nightgown, Dad was asleep.
        He wants to kill me, he told her,
                looking over his shoulder.
3 a.m. and in her nightgown, Dad asleep,
What’s going on? she asked. Who wants to kill you?
        He looked over his shoulder.
                The devil does. Look at him, over there.
She asked, What are you on? Who wants to kill you?
The sky wasn’t black or blue but the green of a dying night.
        The devil, look at him, over there.
                He pointed to the corner house.
The sky wasn’t black or blue but the dying green of night.
Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
        My brother pointed to the corner house.
                His lips flickered with sores.
Stars had closed their eyes or sheathed their knives.
O God, I can see the tail, he said. O God, look.
        Mom winced at the sores on his lips.
                It’s sticking out from behind the house.
O God, see the tail, he said. Look at the goddamned tail.
He sat cross-legged, weeping on the front steps.
        Mom finally saw it, a hellish vision, my brother.
                O God, O God, she said.
Part of a collection wrapped around themes of family, addiction, and Native identity, Diaz builds a space that is spiritual in its commonality, the mirror between real and surreal shivering on the masculinity and meth use of a brother. This poem blends those worlds in a way that sets the fears of the addict and the addict adjacent next to each other, both seeing the devil in the flickering in the dead of reservation night. A silent audience, the darkness surrounds and absorbs everything between the mother and her son: the familiarity, the desperation, the confusion, the love. Linguistically, repetition wraps a peculiar calm around the frantic energy of the son, peeling back the mystery of addict behavior with a knowing hand both clinical and caring. Loving an addict can warp expectations of normality, deadening nerves past shock and exhausting empathy into apathy. Diaz expresses this beautifully through her approach to the erratic, irrational behavior of the poem’s eponymous brother: her descriptions of the man’s addiction, much like the behavior of the mother, is without exaggeration or judgement. Her’s is the deadened, hesitant compassion of one that’s seen the devil too often to be still be scared of his tail, let alone the spitting lips he splits. – NR

Natalie Diaz

Wordsmith Wednesday: Kenneth Calhoun’s Black Moon

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Kenneth Calhoun’s novel Black Moon.

It reads:

“Maybe it was the hurricane upsetting a sealed storehouse of voodoo, Dr. Ferrell considered as his daughter hovered over them.

He distracted himself with his ongoing mantra of maybes.

Maybe it was the toxic dust from fallen towers, the ash creeping into our lungs. Maybe it was some ancient spore released by the melting ice. Maybe it was the earthquakes and the tsunamis they summoned. Maybe it was the hole in the ozone, the collapse of the upper atmosphere. Maybe it was the betrayal by the banks. Maybe it was the dead surpassing the living. Maybe it was the ground choking on garbage and waste. Maybe it was the oil blasting freely into the ocean, or the methane thawing at the bottom of the sea. Maybe it was the overload of information, the swarms of data generated by every human gesture. Maybe it was the networking craze, the resurrection of dead friendships and memories meant to be lost, now resurfacing like rusted shipwrecks to reclaim our attention and scramble our sense of time.”

We’re constantly handed so many options within every interaction that our brain is wired to ask the possibilities of each outcome. The “whatifs” and the “maybes,” the vast landscape of opportunities, they have begun to hinder us, to seep into all aspects of our daily life. As humans, it’s natural for us to want to explore the future and the past for answers. What this ends up doing though is stopping us from living in the present. We are unable to move past certain life choices because we are ceaselessly racking our brains searching for every other decision we could have made, every cause that could have led up to this effect, and how it could have been different.

Calhoun brings us into a presently apocalyptic world that is inhabited mostly by people whose thoughts are never-ending, whose brains cease to shut off at night, who don’t sleep. This “mantra of maybes” is one way that this disease takes over people’s minds and tips them into a sleepless abyss, filled with ramblings and incoherent monologues. Though terrifying to see on paper, this is not far from our own thoughts, the neurons in our brain firing constantly looking for answers to our own questions. Dr. Ferrell embodies the beginning stages of this process, shows us how getting wrapped up in these thoughts, though sometimes important to ask, can steer us away from living in the present, from returning to a collected state of calm and moving forward in action, not solely in questions and thoughts.

– KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Stephen King’s IT

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Today’s Wordsmith Wednesday is from Stephen King​’s “It.”

The passage reads:

“The energy you drew on so extravagantly when you were a kid, the energy you thought would never exhaust itself—that slipped away somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four, to be replaced by something much duller, something as bogus as a coke high: purpose, maybe, or goals, or whatever rah-rah Junior Chamber of Commerce word you wanted to use. It was no big deal; it didn’t go all at once, with a bang. And maybe that’s the scary part. How you don’t stop being a kid all at once, with a big explosive bang, like one of that clown’s trick balloons with the Burma-Shave slogans on the sides. The kid in you just leaked out, like the air out of a tire. And one day you looked in the mirror and there was a grownup looking back at you. You could go on wearing bluejeans, you could keep going to Springsteen and Seger concerts, you could dye your hair, but that was a grownup’s face in the mirror just the same. It all happened while you were asleep, maybe, like a visit from the Tooth Fairy.”

Known in pop culture as a master of modern horror, King’s ability to evoke the magical, endless quality of childhood relationships and events may be his true gift. His ability to make tangible the formless, vibrant feeling of growing up naturally builds characters you invest in because you can see yourself and your life in those experiences, regardless of the setting. Children and characters with mental abnormalities often occupy a role connecting the rigid adult world and the supernatural in King’s stories precisely because they have not been boxed in by the cold comfort of dead logic, but rather view logic as just one tool in conquering fear in all its forms.

I’m currently past the backend of King’s aforementioned transition period and, thus, lie squarely in early adulthood. Reading this passage gave words to something that’s been happening in front of my mind for the last few years. I’ve felt the air leaving my wheels, in morning commutes, pointless meetings, endless deadend job applications. However, I feel fortunate in that I at least have known there’s a hole to be patched, with friends, art, learning, love. I know the kid in me will keep leaking out, slow and steady, but I’m going to keep rolling as long as I can.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Kelly Link’s “The Summer People”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday stems from Kelly Link’s short story “The Summer People,” in her collection Get In Trouble.

It reads:

“When you do for other people (Fran’s daddy said once upon a time when he was drunk, before he got religion) things that they could do for themselves but they pay you to do it instead, you both will get used to it.

Sometimes they don’t even pay you, and that’s charity. At first, charity isn’t comfortable, but it gets so it is. After some while, maybe you start to feel wrong when you ain’t doing it for them, just one more thing, and always one more thing after that. Might be you start to feel as you’re valuable. Because they need you. And the more they need you, the more you need them. Things tip out of balance. You need to remember that, Franny. Sometimes you’re on one side of the equation, and sometimes you’re on the other. You need to know where you are and what you owe. Unless you can balance that out, here is where y’all stay.”

So much of life is transactional. Currency can take form as physical money, or time, or advice given and taken. We often forget that at the base of almost every interaction is an exchange of goods. If we forget this, if we begin to give and give and give, we lose ourselves in the process. Our individuality becomes intertwined with those whom we are looking after.

In “The Summer People,” Link explores the loss of identity and individuality within a family and, particularly, at a young age. Franny is indebted to The Summer People. Her Ma was indebted to them. There is no other life, there is no other option, she must always listen and do what they ask. They gift her with useless, beautiful, unique, outdated objects/toys/knick-knacks, as a thank you for scouring the city for their needs. Though this relationship has tilted to one side, this is all she knows, this connection with The Summer People is what defines her.

It is easy to lose ourselves in our relationships with others, allowing what we do for them to validate us as human beings. Reminding ourselves where we stand in the midst of these transactions helps us to keep a firmer grasp on our individual identity.

– KK

Kelly-Link

Wordsmith Wednesday: Modest Mouse’s “You’re the Good Things”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Modest Mouse’s “You’re the Good Things” off of Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks. It goes:

“You’re the icing on the cake on the table at my wake
You’re the extra ton of cash on my sinking life raft
You’re the loud sound of fun when I’m trying to sleep
You’re the flowers in my house when my allergies come out
You’re the good things…”

We’ve had Modest Mouse on here before and I’m sure Nick and I have more than enough of their lyrics that we would love to use for Wordsmith Wednesday, but, in any case, I’ve chosen them again because it’s hard to resist.

What always sticks out for me with these particular lyrics is just how much the words and Isaac Brock’s voice work together to create the feeling that the lines are trying to express. Brock starts out with a positive half of the line, things you enjoy, and sings it softly, almost crooning. Halfway through he picks up speed, transitioning to the second half of the line, singing quickly and sharply, where he places us in a situation where the positive becomes a negative. We get this contrast of things that we love in situations where we wouldn’t want them to be. A cake at a wake and extra cash on a sinking raft, these all sound great at first, as does Brock’s voice, but they rapidly become unappealing further into the line. It’s this type of contrast that we see often in Modest Mouse lyrics, and the reason I for one appreciate them, but nowhere more than here is it most clear cut and apparent.

– KK

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